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Further Followup On The Soleimani Assassination

Further Followup On The Soleimani Assassination

I wish to point out some matters not getting a lot of attention in the US media.

An important one of those was reported two days ago by Juan Cole. It is that apparently it has not been determined for certain that the initial attack that set off this current round of deaths when a militia in Iraq attacked an Iraqi military base in Kirkuk in which an American contractor was killed, almost certainly a matter of collateral damage although not recognized as such, was actually done by Kata’b Hezbollah, the group reported to have done it.  That group was commanded by al-Mushani, who was also assassinated with Soleimani, with whom he was allied.  But it is not certain that they did it.  As it is, the Kirkuk base is dominated by Kurdish Pesh Merga, with whom it is not at all obvious the pro-Iranian militias like the Kat’b Hezbollah have hostile differences.  This may have been cooked up to create an excuse for assassinating Soleimani.

Indeed, it has now been reported that seven months ago Trump had approved killing Soleimani essentially at the first instance there would be a good excuse for doing so.  In fact it is now reported that although Trump had not heard of Soleimani during th 2016 election, within five minutes of his inauguration he suggested killing Soleimani.  SecState Pompeo been encouraging and pushing this action, but it has been something Trump has been hot to do for some time.  Going up for an impeachment trial looks like a really good time.

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The 2020 Electoral College playing field expands for Democrats

The 2020 Electoral College playing field expands for Democrats

Polling firm Morning Consult has an interactive graph measuring Trump approval by State for each month since January 2016. You can visit it here.

The map has some interesting insights for the 2020 Presidential election race. In the first place, while it would be too cumbersome to show here, in general Trump’s disapproval has spread and intensified over the course of his term. As the latest map, for December, does not include reaction to his reckless warmongering with Iran, I am going to guess that January’s map will be worse for him.

Anyway, while there is obviously some variation from month to month, the latest two months shown below in chronological order, November and December, show – in shades from light pink to red – all of those States that the Democratic candidate has the most decent chance of carrying:

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Can The US Assassination Of Qasem Solemiani Be Justified?

Can The US Assassination Of Qasem Solemiani Be Justified?

We know from various Congressional folks that briefers of Congress have failed to produce any evidence of “imminent” plans to kill Americans Soleimani was involved with that would have made this a legal killing rather than an illegal assassination.  The public statements by administration figures have cited such things as the 1979 hostage crisis, the already dead contractor, and, oh, the need to “reestablish deterrence” after Trump did not follow through on previous threats he made.  None  of this looks remotely like “imminent plans,” not to mention that the Iraqi PM Abdul-Mahdi has reported that Soleimani was on the way to see him with a reply to a Saudi peace proposal.  What a threatening imminent plan!

As it is, despite the apparent lack of “imminent plans” to kill Americans, much of the supporting rhetoric for this assassination coming out of Trump supporters (with bragging about it having reportedly been put up on Trump’s reelection funding website) involves charges that Soleimani was “the world’s Number One terrorist” and was personally responsible for killing 603 Americans in Iraq.  Even as many commentators have noted the lack of any “imminent plans,” pretty much all American ones have prefaced these questions with assertions that Soleimani was unquestionable “evil” and “bad” and a generally no good guy who deserved to be offed, if not right at this time and in this way.  He was the central mastermind and boss of a massive international terror network that obeyed his orders and key to Iran’s reputed position as “the Number One state supporter of terrorism,” with Soleimani the key to all of that.

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Republics and the war-making power

Republics and the war-making power

In view of the militry carrying out Trump’s order to kill an Iranian general, I thought I would weigh in on the issue of the war-making power historically by republics.

I don’t have much to add to the substance of the immediate debate. Killing an Iranian general was certainly an act of war. It was also a big escalation on the US side. At the same time, the US’s economic blockade of Iran, which it has been attempting to enforce against third parties as well, has been if not an act of war itself, at least tiptoeing up to the very line. Similarly, Iran’s conducting of low-grade hostilities by proxies against the US has also really been an act of war. So I’m not sure that the line-crossing is as bright as it may appear at first blush.

That being said, it seems obvious that the consequences of the strike were not well-thought out, and there almost certainly is no strategic follow-up plan.

Additionally – and what I want to focus on here – is that also almost certainly, there was no imminent emergency requiring immediate action by the President rather than consultation with an approval by the Congress, as mandated by, you know, the Constitution. This event has been at least equal to the most blatant usurpation of Congress’s power in decades (Reagan’s reprisals against Libya and George HW Bush’s capture of Noriega in Panama were probably in the same league).

This got me to thinking: how historically have republics vested their war making power? Since recently I’ve read two books on the Roman Republic, histories of medieval Venice and Genoa, and am now reading about the Dutch Republic, that’s something I can contribute — because their systems had a common theme.

 

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The criminalization of homelessness

Poverty is the worst form of violence.  Mahatma Gandhi

This particular Baltimore Sun commentary goes hand in hand with Paul Krugman’s commentary on making life more difficult for the <less than 138% FPL  using Medicaid. The motive of the Trumpians. Trump, and Republicans is to punish people for things impacting them through no fault of their own. Trumps plays to a crowd who believe others less fortunate are getting something for nothing. It is an old ploy to establish a class lower than the next level so they believe they have a her level of existence.

Imagine if sleeping were to get you thrown in jail. Or sitting and lying down in public. Or camping. Or snoozing in your car.

In cities across the country, that is exactly what is happening to homeless people who engage in these activities. In an effort to clean up their cities and make residents and visitors more comfortable, lawmakers have taken an inhumane approach to homelessness and made all these actions illegal.

Civil liberties advocates have challenged these laws arguing, arguing they violate the 8th Amendment against cruel and unusual punishment. This month, they were handed a victory from the Supreme Court, which declined to review a lower court ruling that allowed people to sleep in public when shelters are full. The justices made their decision with no comment or dissent in the case, which stemmed from a lawsuit filed by homeless people in Boise, Idaho, who were ticketed for sleeping outside.

We hope the high court’s decision will make other cities think twice about adopting such laws, which punishes people for their predicament. A study released last week by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty found the number of cities with such regulations is growing rapidly. In 2019, 83% of 187 cities had at least one law that restricted begging in public. Fifty-five percent of these cities have one or more laws prohibiting sitting or lying down in public and 51% had at least one law restricting sleeping in public. Currently, 72% of the cities have at least one law restricting camping in public. There are even laws that prohibit people from sleeping in their cars.

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Paul Krugman: The cruelty of a Trump Christmas Medicaid, Work Reqmts, and Food Stamps Edition

This sets the tone in Michigan as the richest Republican controlled County of Livingston continues its attack on women along with the State of Michigan House and Senate using a petition to pass a veto-proof law limiting abortion without putting it forward on a ballot initiative. A tyranny of a minority imposing its will upon others.

“By Trump-era standards, Ebenezer Scrooge was a nice guy.

It’s common, especially around this time of year, to describe conservative politicians who cut off aid to the poor as Scrooges; I’ve done it myself. But if you think about it, this is deeply unfair to Scrooge.

For while Dickens portrays Scrooge as a miser, he’s notably lacking in malice. True, he’s heartless until visited by various ghosts. But his heartlessness consists merely of unwillingness to help those in need. He’s never shown taking pleasure in others’ suffering, or spending money to make the lives of the poor worse.

These are things you can’t say about the modern American right. In fact, many conservative politicians only pretend to be Scrooges, when they’re actually much worse–not mere misers, but actively cruel. This was true long before Donald Trump moved into the White House. What’s new about the Trump era is that the cruelty is more open, not just on Trump’s part, but throughout his party.

The conventional wisdom about today’s Republicans is that they are Scrooge-like. The story is that they want to serve the interests of the rich (which is true), and that the reason they want to slash aid to the poor is to free up money for plutocrat-friendly tax cuts.

But is that really why the right is so determined to cut programs like food stamps and unemployment benefits?

(more by Krugman)

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Is There An Objective Reality?

Is There An Objective Reality?

Yes.

So this is the ontological question: is supposed apparently “objective” reality really real?

I come at this as someone who in the past questioned this.  I had my period of post-modernist questioning of objective reality. This culminated in a paper, which  I presented as a major address to receive a major recognition at my university, “Belief: Its role in economic theory and action,” American Journal of Economics and Sociology, 1993.

I shall stand by the vast majority of things I said in that paper, now under criticism on various fronts, but not all. I shall note, without bothering to reply specifically to any of those comments here, that indeed  there are things in this paper I now disagree with.  This was the height of my agreement with the pomo view of the universe.  But I had moved on from the less defensible parts of that  paper well before the general pomo exercise was to be revealed to be a pile of crap.in the Sokal expose in 1996.

I have just finished reading main portions of the latest book by my friend, Lee Smolin, “Einstein’s Unfinished Revolution: The Search for What Lies Beyond the Quantum,” which is to be a Christmas present to a family member, “pretesting” of gifts we call it.

Lee is a friend of mine, and the big cheese at the Perimeter Institute of Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, ON, CA. This is the place where the critics of string theory hang out, and Lee is their leader. I have spoken there, and I have lots of respect for this place and specifically many people there beyond Lee Smolin, their general protector and supporter.

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Does Menzie Chinn Or Tyler Cowen Replace Mark Thoma?

Does Menzie Chinn Or Tyler Cowen Replace Mark Thoma?

The retirement of Mark Thoma, whose Economist’s View has been praised on his retirement with having transformed the econoblogosphere back in the mid- noughties by linking regularly, daily in his heyday, to other blogs, including this one. Thanks to him when the big crash happened, there was a wide open debate across levels and schools of thought in economics about what was going down.

But for some time now, Mark has been reducing his activity on his blog, with it stopping being the reliable every day link to other blogs some time ago.  I fear that this combined with his retirement may be a signal of the decline, if not the outright death yet, of the econoblogosphere, at least as an important intellectual and policy force.

The obvious new competitor has been Twitter, which I confess I still resist.  It is ubiquitous, but also seriously shallow for serious issues.  I recognize its usefulness for covering immediate events such as disasters or revolutoins or strikes, etc.  But it is vacuous for any serious discussions.  But its appeal and attraction have simply grown, with the rise of use by Trump, with his 68 million followers and doing over 100 per day has substantially led to this shift.  We here are in a declining market.

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Trump Brags About Record Defense Spending

Trump Brags About Record Defense Spending

Niv Elis covers the latest in the Trump fiscal fiasco:

President Trump on Friday signed two spending packages totaling $1.4 trillion, averting a government shutdown at midnight. The bills included all 12 annual appropriations bills for the 2020 fiscal year that started Oct. 1. They also included a slew of tax cuts, extending expiring and expired tax breaks and eliminating other taxes that amount to an additional $426 billion in lost revenue, bringing the total cost of the bill to more than $1.8 trillion.

Reagan used to complain about “tax&tax and spend&spend” so he replaced it with spend&spend and borrow&borrow. Trump is doing the same but there’s more:

Trump’s signature brings to a close a fraught year for spending. At the same time last year, his refusal to sign a stopgap measure over funding his proposed border wall led to a 35-day shutdown, the longest in the nation’s history. The Democratic majority in the House, which was seated in the midst of the shutdown, left Trump with little to show for the shutdown by way of wall funding. After finally striking a deal to reopen the government in February, Trump proceeded to declare a state of emergency along the Southern border to allow him to reprogram other funds. Not long after, Trump released his annual budget proposal that would have hyper-charged military spending while dramatically cutting domestic spending, slashing more than 20 percent of funds from the EPA, State Department, and Transportation Department, and abolishing funding for popular programs such as the National Endowment for the Arts, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Special Olympics. Congress summarily dismissed the request and ultimately agreed to a deal that would increase spending on both defense and non-defense significantly for both 2020 and 2021. Congressional leaders would need two stopgap measures spanning nearly three months to work out spending allocations, find compromises on controversial issues such as the wall and agree on additional legislation to include in the package.

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The Afghanistan War

The Afghanistan War

(posted by run75441)

The Washington Post has over the last 7 days published a detailed account based on many secret documents they have spent years obtaining to provide an accurate account of what has happened during what is now the longest war the US has been engaged in. It is an impressive account, which I have tried to follow, although with finishing a semester I did not read every word of it. But it is a serious and important serious series, just reaching its conclusion today, along with lots of commentary in the WaPo Sunday Outlook section.

One extremely serious bottom line on both of them was lying by US officials, just rampant and all over the place for both wars. WaPo Outlook had an especially useful column by Lauren Kay Johnson who was US military PR person in late 2009-early 2010, soon after Obama came in. Lies, lies, lies.

The obvious comparison is with the Vietnam War, and much does carryover such as corruption and bad excuses for continuing with unlikely improvement outcomes. Vietnam was bigger and deadlier, well over 2000 dead per year in Vietnam compared to about 100 Americans dying in Afghanistan per year. Easy to pay no attention to them.

So aside from much lower US deaths, maybe the other big difference from the Vietnam War is the shift to drones, perhaps not unconnected to the first. While this almost certainly reduced the US deaths, it also led to less knowledge on the ground that was there in Vietnam (see “They Marched into Sunlight” by David Maraniss, old friend of mine).

Obviously, a big difference between the two wars is that Vietnam beyond some point engendered a massive anti-war protest movement, while the longer Afghan war has not even to now triggered anything like the protests the Vietnam predecessor brought. Certainly both the far lower death rate and lower costs lie behind this.

But the similarities are clear and must be recognized. This has been a corrupt, ultimately hopeless war that people at many levels of the US govt have just routinely lied about. One difference between the two wars is the big role of opium in Afghanistan, with the money in it being hugely important, while it played a more minor matter in the earlier war.

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